A seven-member District of Columbia recruiting team is interviewing hundreds of unemployed Spanish-speaking Philadelphians for jobs as bilingual police and corrections officers in Washington.
"We have a good opportunity for them," said Angel Luis Irene, coordinator of the Washington team. Starting salary for the police officers is $18,551 a year and $14,783 for corrections officers, he said.
Irene said the two-week recruiting drive was launched here Monday after a survey of several states showed Philadelphia had a pool of some 500 bilingual Hispanics who had passed the city's police entrance exam last November but were not hired because of city budget constraints and a hiring freeze.
Jose Gutierrez, the D.C. director of personnel, said that there are now only 33 Hispanic officers out of 3,880 on the D.C. police force, and 11 Hispanic officers out of 1,400 D.C. corrections officers.
Gutierrez said that in accordance with the D.C. government's policy that city jobs should reflect the ethnic makeup of the city, he wants each force to include 7 percent Hispanics, which is the percentage of Hispanics in the city's population. That would mean 272 Hispanic police officers and 98 Hispanic corrections officers, he said.
While recruiting is also under way in Washington itself as well as the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, Philadelphia is the only place outside the Washington area where officials are trying to recruit Hispanics, Gutierrez said. If Philadelphia does not yield enough Hispanic recruits, however, Gutierrez said that he would seek permission to try other cities, such as New York.
Philadelphia's Managing Director Rodney A. Johnson said Washington's recruiting drive here was both "flattering" and "frustrating" since Philadelphia may lose some of its better-qualified potential police officers because the city cannot afford to hire them.
"Unfortunately, it's a minus for our city because we put a lot of work into recruiting, training and putting people on the list of eligibles," said Jack Plaza, a Philadelphia patrolman and president of the Spanish-American Police Association.
Philadelphia doesn't intend to hire any more police officers until after the November mayoral election, Plaza said. While there is no official breakdown of Hispanic unemployment here, Maximo Santiago Jr. of Philadelphia's Commission on Human Relations said, "If you estimated 25 percent here you would not be very far off. It's higher than for blacks."
Qualified applicants were hard to find in Washington, according to Irene, because many Hispanics there are recent arrivals who are not U.S. citizens and cannot speak English, both requirements for the police and corrections jobs.
"Washington is like an immigration deposit for Hispanics coming from South and Central American countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua," he said.
Washington officials began the special recruiting drive for bilingual police officers the last week of July and added the search for corrections officers after the issue of prison staff shortages arose, Irene said.
The District of Columbia will provide bus transportation to Washington for Philadelphia applicants selected to take the police tests next month that include a physical examination, a background character check and drug-use screening. Those who qualify will be placed on the register of eligibles and offered jobs as vacancies occur, Irene said. The turnover in Washington police officers averages about 38 a month, he said.
While the emphasis here is on recruiting candidates for the police test, applicants for corrections officer positions in Washington are likely to land jobs first because of the large turnover and less stringent requirements.
There are currently about 50 job openings in the D.C. Department of Corrections that could be filled almost immediately by qualified applicants, Irene said. "There is a high turnover among corrections officers in Washington; there is a great need."
Irene said Washington recruiters were confident they would find applicants here in the numbers they needed. "These are young people who are determined to make it and they will go wherever they have to go to do it," he said. "There is a large Hispanic population unemployed in Philadelphia."